‘Interpreting’ at Vindolanda: Commercial and Linguistic Mediation in the Roman Army

Rachel Mairs

Merton College, University of Oxford


A fragmentary tablet from Vindolanda (Tab. Vindol. II, 213) contains an occurrence of the verb interpretari (‘interpret’, ‘explain’, ‘mediate’) in an apparently commercial context, relating to the grain supply for the Roman fort. This usage is paralleled in a text on a wooden stilus tablet from Frisia in the Netherlands. ‘Interpreters’ and their activities make rather infrequent appearances in the Latin epigraphic and documentary records. In the Danubian provinces, interpreters (interpretes) are attested as army officers and officials in the office of the provincial governor. ‘Interpreters’, in both Latin and Greek inscriptions and papyri, often, however, play more ambiguous roles, not always connected with language-mediation, but also, or instead, with mediation in commercial transactions.


  • Roman army;
  • Vindolanda;
  • interpreters/translators;
  • Latin language;
  • trade/exchange